Monday, June 17, 2013

Cherry Blossom Run

Earlier in the spring I led a group from work on a run around the Mall when the Cherry Blossoms were out.  The best place to see the blooms is around the Jefferson Memorial Tidal Basin.
Although it's crowded, it is well worth the trouble to view the blossoms.  They are a spectacular riot of pink and white when in bloom.
This year the blooms only lasted a few days.  My pictures don't do justice to how beautiful they are.
There is a little known statue of George Mason down there tucked away in a pocket park not far from the Jefferson Memorial.  Mason wrote the Virginia bill of rights, the model upon which the Constitution's Bill of Rights was based. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Journey

Here on Father's Day, I'm not anticipating hearing from my children.  It's been six years since I've had any communication from them.  The divorce wars in Western society gone berserk.
But I had sixteen wonderful years with Jimmy.  I remember him taking the ball down the soccer pitch on a long run late in the final game of a tournament in Dulles, deking out the fullback and then confronting the hitherto unscored upon goalie and scoring for the lone goal in the game, thus gaining the trophy for his brand-new travel team the McLean Sting.  I miss him but treasure the memories I have of a blazingly fast trailblazing risk-taking young man.  
I had fifteen wonderful years with Johnny, whom I last saw ten years ago.  This grieves me of course but I count the blessings of the years I had with this wonderful child, the one of my three children who was most like me, observed his Mother once.   I remember a boy who shared my love of military history , who called up one time asking to come over to peruse my bookshelf so he could bring back to his Mother's house a boxful of battle history books, who I watched once march back and forth on our sidewalk on a snowy day for half an hour with a shouldered toy rifle, a sentinel keeping us safe in his imagination from danger.
I had fourteen wonderful years with Danny.  I remember the time he fell while roughhousing with his brothers and split open his chin requiring stitches and I was unable to prevent his fall or transfer his pain onto myself and that memory still haunts me.  I count my blessings for the pleasure of knowing a boy who had a nice blend of speed and athleticism that made him an all-star fullback in football and my go-to emergency goalie when I coached him in soccer.
I miss my children but more, I love my children.  Be well, wherever and however you are JJ&D.  I am blessed by having known them for a decade and a half a decade ago.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

My First Trail Run

Earlier this spring I ran my first trail run race, a 5-miler in Virginia atop a hill in the woods where an old prison used to be.  I run at work at noon on the Mall with a coworker who was signed up to do the 10-mile version of this race but I could tell she wasn't going to be ready for it and I told her so.

I urged her to drop back to the 5-mile version so she wouldn't have a dreadful experience or worse, injure herself.  I said I'd run the 5-miler with her if she did.  (I told my friend she wasn't ready for 10 miles.)

She agreed.  I signed up.

On race day I swung by her place and discovered that a) her niggling nagging injury was still present so she gave her bib to her husband, not a runner but a fit guy because he plays basketball all the time in leagues and b) a true runner, a friend. was coming with us.  Okay, I'd be running with S, her non-runner husband and the friend would run off and leave us.

It worked out wonderfully.  The friend disappeared at the start and threw down, like, a 34 minute time so he was way out of our league. 

I ran with S, and the race started at the top of the mountain next to the abandoned prison (Lorton) and immediately ran down to the stream below.  That loss of elevation would be made up for later.  (S is on the right.)

S hung with me, and ran right behind me.  The run shortly got into single track running on narrow footpaths up and down the forested or grassy hillsides and once we fell in with a group of runners after the first mile, there wasn't a whole lot of places being changed.  We tried to get over as a courtesy for runners coming through.

Down and up we went.  S was always right behind me, and I started to think I was holding him back.  We passed the halfway mark at about 24:58 at a waterstop and I took a momentary break to drink some gatorade.  I was grateful for the break because did I say, the course was up and down?

S took the lead.  I hung on as best I could, but at the four-mile mark, I waved him on, telling him that "I'm not feelin' it today."

S wasn't having any of that though and he let me get back in front of him.  Although he's a basketball player, he's fit and thirty years younger than me.  He's also a gentleman.

So I was leading a string of runners at about our pace up and down these switchback narrow trails.  At 4 1/2 miles we ran over a stream and I knew that meant a low point with a half-mile climb to the top of the mountain.  I had my sights set on breaking 50 minutes and it was doable.

Up and up we wended.  We debouched onto a grassy field with the prison above and ahead of us and my watch reading in the mid-49 minute range. 

I was even with S, but I wanted to break 50 minutes.  I ramped it up and surged past him.  I felt terrible because, well, I was breaking past him.

It didn't matter.  My time, despite my best effort, was 50:03.  Maybe I took 4 seconds to pass the start at the start but I don't calculate like that.  My time was my time.  I beat S, or should I say his wife, by 2 seconds.  I appreciated running with S.

It was a good race.  I have run with my coworker and S before, during Cherry Blossom time, and S could keep up.  I noticed that. 

Maybe next time I'll break 50 minutes for a 5-mile trail run.  (S and his wife on a cherry blossom run around the Tidal Basin in April.)  

Saturday, June 8, 2013

What did you do in the war?

The man next to me on the gurney was old.  But then so am I.

Old enough to be invisible.  I have become reconciled to it.

We were both invisible.  The phlebotomist got both of our blood drips going and then left us to go talk to the nurse across the room.

"Hey, how are you doing over there," I called out.  The man's head snapped around and he said, "Fine.  Happy birthday.  I heard the nurses say it was your birthday when you came in."

"Yeah," I said, "what better way to celebrate your birthday than to donate your 99th unit of blood?"  I was feeling frisky about my penultimate blood donation before I reached my lifetime goal of a century mark of blood donations and was bragging.

"This is my 188th donation," came the reply.  My head snapped around and I looked at him and asked, "How old are you, sir?"

"Eighty-nine."  I immediately launched into my ever-present quest to speak with every member of the greatest generation that I possibly can and asked, "So did you serve in World War II?'

"Yes," came the answer, "I was in the Navy in the Pacific." 

"My dad was in the 1st Marine Division at Peleliu and Okinawa," I responded.

I looked across the room as we both bled out at the blood technician rapt in conversation with the nurse as us two old fogeys entertained ourselves.  " I was off Okinawa," the man beside me said, "Those Kamikazes were terrible." 

"My dad never faced a kamikaze, he merely flushed out dogged Japanese infantrymen from deep inside caves on the ridges."  The old-timer wasn't biting on my talk about my dad.

"My ship was the Constellation, but then they changed its name to the USS Hope.  We went to pick up the Bataan Death March survivors after the Japanese surrendered."

This was interesting.  "They must have been in rough shape after being POWs for over three years."

"Yes they were.  They were mere toothpicks when they came on board.  They ate everything we put in front of them.  We were making ice cream for them and they didn't even wait for it to freeze, they drank it in liquid form.  Within the hour they were pregnant toothpicks."

I could imagine emaciated hollow-eyed men, mere skin and bones, forming grotesquely distended stomachs from rich feasting after years of starvation as their bellies blew up.  "A doctor came down to the mess and put a stop to us feeding them.  He said we would kill them if we fed them too much too fast, it would overwhelm their systems."

The octogenarian's name was Tony, he was a hero in World War II and he's still a hero.  How many lives do you think he's saved with 188 blood donations?  He was a spry fellow, he could get around just fine, and there was nothing wrong with his mind or his memory.  I have learned that all you have to do is begin a conversation with someone considerably older than yourself and sometimes it can become a rich learning experience.